Vijay Hazare Trophy: Mumbai take on Saurashtra in opener
BENGALURU: It was a picture of contrast on a cloudy Monday morning at the Karnataka State Cricket Association's 'B' ground. At one end of the nets, the Karnataka team, including skipper Manish Pandey, KL Rahul and Karun Nair, were looking to middle the ball.
On the other side, the Harpreet Singh-led Chhattisgarh squad was toiling with little or no attention on them. They may not be hot favourites to win the title, but they can do enough damage to spoil another team's party. Given the format and the prevailing weather in the city, complacency will not be a part of the game plan when Group A teams begin their Vijay Hazare Trophy campaign here on Tuesday.
Thirty-eight teams have been divided into four groups and they will play a total of 160 matches including the knockouts.
Group A is probably one of the trickiest among the four. It is a group brimming with batting prowess and bowling skill. The group includes defending champions Mumbai, hosts and former champions Karnataka, Saurashtra, Andhra, Hyderabad, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Kerala and Jharkhand. With each team capable of upsetting the other's applecart and the format ensuring that only the top 5 teams from Group A and B qualify, each unit will aim to be on top of the game.
Rain, which ruined a few teams' fortunes in the tournament last year, is likely to cast a shadow over the event this time as well. Barring the M Chinnaswamy stadium, which boosts of a good drainage system, heavy rain will mean either truncated or washed out encounters at other venues like the KSCA Alur stadium and Just Cricket.
There's freshness about the Shreyas Iyer-led Mumbai side. They will miss their international players Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and their last year's second-best batsman Prithvi Shaw, who is serving a doping ban but the selectors have brought in two youngsters -Yashasvi Jaiswal and left-arm spinner Atharva Ankolekar- who will be eager to showcase their skills after tasting success with the India U-19 team. Jaiswal, is currently with the India U-23 team.
While there are many in the team who will be looking to catch the eye of either the national selectors or IPL scouts, for Sarfaraz Khan, it will be his climb back into relevance. The 21-year-old, who fell off the radar due to poor consistency, injuries and fitness issues, returns to the Mumbai fold after his stint with Uttar Pradesh. Mumbai open their campaign against the formidable Saurashtra.
The tournament also marked the homecoming of sorts for players from Karnataka who will turn out in different colours. Robin Uthappa is a part of the Kerala squad while wicketkeeper-batsman CM Gautam will make his debut as a professional for Goa this season.
While Jharkhand will not have the luxury of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the line-up and will be led by pacer Varun Aaron, Hyderabad will be bolstered by the return of Ambati Rayudu, who did a quick U-turn after announcing his retirement following a World Cup snub.
Tuesday's matches: Group A: Andhra vs Chhattisgarh, Alur (2); Hyderabad vs Karnataka, Alur (1); Mumbai vs Saurashtra Alur (3). All matches begin at 9 am